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Military Record of Captain Martin Binney

Martin Binney, sometimes called Harry or Henry Martin Binney, was born in East Cambridge, Mass., February 24, 1831. After receiving his education in the Cambridge schools, at the age of twenty-two years he was married to Miss Sallie D. Ayers at Providence, R. I. She was the daughter of John and Sally Ayers, of Boston, and formerly lived at East Cambridge. This marriage was on February 24, 1853. Subsequently Captain Binney and family came to Somerville. They had two sons who reached manhood, Edward A. and Henry M. Binney. Captain Binney, the subject of this narrative, lived in the old town of Somerville when it was a village and part of Charlestown, and himself gives the following account of his services in the war of 1861-1865:—

I was a member of the Massachusetts State Militia in 1850, at the age of nineteen, serving first in the old Boston Light Infantry, or ‘Tigers,’ for three years, and subsequently in the ‘Boston Independent Fusileers,’ in the Fifth Massachusetts Infantry. On April 15, 1861, at the first call for troops, I joined Company I, Fifth Massachusetts Volunteers. This was the old ‘Somerville Light Infantry,’ Captain George O. Brastow. It was quartered in the Treasury building for some time, being mustered into the United States service at Washington, D. C., May 1, 1861. Subsequently it crossed Long Bridge into Virginia, and was camped at ‘Shooters Hill,’ Virginia, until July 17, 1861, on which day we marched to Centreville Heights, near Manassas Junction. With thirty other men I was detailed under Captain Messer of the Haverhill company to march up a side road. Here we met a body of rebels on July 18, at a place called ‘Wolf Run Shoals,’ and had quite an engagement. We then overtook the army two days later, encamped on Centreville [34] Heights, and on the 21st of July (Sunday), went into the battle of Bull Run or Manassas. From there the regiment returned to Washington, and our time of enlistment having expired August 1, 1861, we were mustered out and returned to Boston.

In the following September, 1861, Captain George W. West, who was formerly first lieutenant in the Somerville Light Infantry, but who did not go out with the company on three months service, asked Captain Brastow to name two men of his old company who would make suitable officers in his new company in Maine. Captain Brastow gave him the names of Martin Binney and Edward Brackett. Captain West offered me a commission as second lieutenant, and Brackett that of first sergeant, stating that he himself expected to be commissioned major in another Maine regiment, which would leave us both a chance of promotion. We accepted and went to Maine and helped recruit the company. We received our commissions and were attached to the Tenth Maine regiment, which was in camp at Cape Elizabeth, near Portland, Me. My commission from Governor Washburn of Maine as second lieutenant, Tenth Maine Volunteers, was dated September 23, 1861, and as first lieutenant, June, 1862. This regiment went about November 5, 1861, to Patterson Park, Baltimore, Md., and remained there some months. It was classed in the ‘Middle Department,’ Major-General John E. Wool, U. S. A., commanding, and was soon ordered to ‘Relay House,’ nine miles out on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, and belonged to the so-called ‘Railroad Brigade.’ While we remained at the Relay House, the ‘Railroad Brigade,’ consisting of the Tenth Maine, a Wisconsin, and a Connecticut regiment, was under Colonel Dixon S. Miles, of the Second U. S. Infantry. About February, 1862, I was appointed as acting assistant adjutant-general, and remained upon his staff until the surrender of Harper's Ferry, September 15, 1862. In June, 1862, the enemy made an attack upon Harper's Ferry from Halltown and London Heights, and we fell [35] back over a pontoon bridge to Maryland Heights, which commanded the country for miles, and from which the steeples of Martinsburg could be seen. Upon the plateau of Maryland Heights we had the naval battery of two 50-pound Armstrong rifled guns and a 100-pound Columbia, worked at first by sailors, and subsequently by the Fifth New York Artillery. The rebels again attacked us in force, but the shells from Maryland Heights broke them up. Prior to this I had been badly injured by falling through a stone culvert. This occurred late at night, when a party of our regiment was out in search of a rebel officer, who we heard was visiting friends seven miles distant. The injury received was a bad cut in the eye-brow. Mrs. George West, wife of Captain West, dressed the wound. She with several officers' wives was with the regiment at Relay House and Harper's Ferry.

Again, late in June, 1862, while superintending the placing of Gardner's Indiana Battery on the crest of Bolivar Heights, a six-pound solid shot from the enemy at Halltown struck the wheel of one of the guns, and glancing, entered the flank of my horse, carrying a part of my coat tails with it. The horse, in falling, carried me under him, dislocating my knee. This laid me up for some time.

While the Tenth Maine was quartered at Harper's Ferry, Captain West's company (D) was provost guard, and Captain West was provost-marshal of Harper's Ferry and vicinity. The enemy was obliged to retire up the valley.

As my wife was very ill at home, and my eye badly injured, I was granted twenty days leave of absence. Before my leave had expired, I learned that the Confederates had again laid siege to Harper's Ferry to cover their raid into Maryland, and I at once returned to the front and reported for duty.

I took part in many skirmishes in and about Halltown, Charleston, Sharpsburg, and on Bolivar Heights, and was favorably mentioned in the report of General Rufus Saxton. The Tenth Maine regiment, with Captain West, First Lieutenant John D. Beardsley, and Sergeant Ed Brackett, went up the valley [36] with the rest, and joined Sheridan's army. I was still upon Colonel Miles' staff at the Ferry. While at Winchester Captain West received his commission as major in the Seventeenth Maine Volunteers, John D. Beardsley was made captain, Martin Binney, first lieutenant, and Ned Brackett, second lieutenant. This regiment was in the fight at Cedar Mountain, where Captain Beardsley was taken prisoner. This left the company under Second Lieutenant Edward Brackett, of Somerville, and they went up through Luray valley and joined General Pope's army at or near Manassas Junction, Va.

In August, 1862, the enemy again laid siege to Harper's Ferry. They crossed the Potomac river at ‘Point of Rocks’ and Edward's Ferry, which was between Harper's Ferry and Baltimore, and before cutting the telegraph wires, received our despatches to and from Washington. They attacked the position at the Ferry in front of Bolivar Heights, occupied London Heights on the Virginia side at the junction of the Shenandoah river, and those who had crossed into Maryland came up through Crampton's Gap and South Mountain, and swarmed up the rear of Maryland Heights. We had six days constant battle, in fact, an artillery duel, as there was no opportunity to use infantry or cavalry. During the night of September 13, 1862, the cavalry captured the whole ox General Longstreet's ammunition train. Thus Harper's Ferry became a slaughter pen, and on the morning of September 15, 1862, after a consultation with all the field officers, the commander, Colonel Dixon S. Miles, surrendered with the terms: ‘All officers shall retain their side arms and private property, the troops to retain their personal property, and all officers and men to be paroled.’ Twelve thousand men thus became parole prisoners, and remained so until January 1, 1863, when they were officially exchanged.

Being a patroled prisoner of war, I remained at home until notice was received that all the prisoners of Harper's Ferry were exchanged. I was ordered to report for duty to the nearest department in which I might be. I at once [37] reported to Major-General John E. Wool, New York city, commanding the Department of the East, which comprised all the New England states with New York and New Jersey. I reported on January 1, 1863. To my surprise and gratification I received immediately an appointment as personal aide-de-camp upon the; staff of Major General Wool, and remained there until the expiration of the service of the Tenth Maine Volunteers, when I was mustered out and came home in June, 1863.

Although offered many positions in the service between June, 1863, and January, 1864, I felt that I had ‘had enough of it,’ and remained at home. But the old spirit was upon me, and I again enlisted as a private soldier in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers in the early spring of 1864, and was commissioned first lieutenant March 18, 1864.

We started for the front about March 23, 1864, and found the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts at Stevensburg Plains, Va. Here I was mustered into the United States service and assigned to Company B, Captain Charles H. Smith, of Worcester. For some extra service while out on picket line seven miles to the front, I was highly complimented by General Thomas A. Smythe of the Second Brigade, First Division, (General F. C. Barlow) Second Corps (Major-General W. S. Hancock), and I was ordered to go back to camp and report to General Smythe in person, which I did, and received an appointment upon the brigade staff. This was only ten or fifteen days after reaching the army. On May 3, 1864, we started to cross the Rappahannock river, and then commenced the campaign of that year. We were constantly engaged in and about ‘the Wilderness’ May 3, 4, 5, and 6. On May 4, I was struck in the head by a bullet which tore the scalp, and rendered me unconscious. I was taken to the rear to the field hospital, where the surgeon shaved my head and took six stitches in the wound. After dark I could not feel contented and sneaked out of the hospital tent, walked three miles, and reported for duty at brigade-headquarters with my head in bandages. We continued our famous left flank movements, and had engagements [38] at Po river, Tottopottomy creek, North Anna, South Anna, and the great fights of Spottsylvania, May 18th, the ‘Daylight Assault’ of May 12th, also the ‘Bloody Angle.’ On May 12th, after our daylight assault, we captured the formidable earthworks, 3,000 prisoners, twenty-two pieces of artillery, and two major-generals, (Stuart and F. Lee). While on top of the bastion, I seized the gun of a dead soldier and some ammunition and commenced to load and fire upon the Confederates. I had fired thus three times when a piece of exploded shell struck me exactly upon my belt-plate, doubled up the plate and completely knocked the breath out of me. I fell forward into the earthworks, where I remained until two P. M. I had lain there from about nine A. M. I was finally carried back to the field hospital, and after remaining three days I again reported to the front for duty. About this time Colonel Richard Byrnes of the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts returned from the recruiting service, and took command of the brigade, and as my regiment had lost many officers, I was ordered to my regiment, then commanded by Colonel George W. Cartwright. On May 18th, at Spottsylvania, the brigade had captured a line of earthworks and held it some time, subjected to an enfilading fire of grape and cannister and shell. A consulting of officers was held at the base of a large tree. While congregated there, a rebel shell exploded in our midst, killing outright Captain Magner, Major Lawler, and Captains Cockran and McIntyre, and severely wounding Major Fleming, Captain Page, Captain Annand, and Lieutenant Bird. Thus were terribly decimated the officers in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts regiment.

June 3rd and 4th was fought the battle of Cold Harbor, Va., and this regiment on the night of June 4th could muster only two officers, Captain Noyes and myself, and less than 100 men. When the Twenty-eighth went into the Wilderness, May 3rd and 4th, we had 385 men and twenty-seven officers. In just thirty days it was reduced to two officers and less than 100 men.

On June 4th, 1864, at the battle of Cold Harbor, First [39] Lieutenant Edward F. O'Brien, our adjutant, was severely wounded and lost his foot, and I was made adjutant of the Twenty-eighth regiment, and Major James Fleming was made lieutenant-colonel commanding. In coming out of our assault on June 4th, and retiring through a storm of shot, shell, and cannister, Colonel Richard Byrnes of the Twenty-eighth, and commanding the Second Brigade, was mortally wounded in the spine and completely paralyzed. As he was left on the field, after reaching our trenches I called for volunteers, and with sixteen men made a sortie over our trenches into a, perfect hell of fire. We rescued the colonel, but left eleven of our men to pay the penalty. Colonel Brynes was taken to Washington, and survived a few days only, but long enough for his family to reach him before he died. For this action was highly complimented by Major-General Frank C. Barlow, commanding the first division of Hancock's Second Army Corps.

From Cold Harbor we continued our march and crossed the James river. Then commenced the siege of Petersburg. Late in June, the 29th, I think, Hancock's Corps marched to City Point, Va., took transports, and landed at ‘Deep Bottom,’ thus drawing the enemy away from Petersburg. On the transport on the way up the river, I was in the vessel's hold, sleeping upon some cannon-balls and old rubbish, when I was called and informed that Major-General Barlow wished me to report to him in the pilot house. I learned that he wished me to accept an appointment upon his staff, and act as personal aide-de-camp. I accepted, and led the division, after landing, up to Strawberry Plain, where we were in sight of the steeples of Richmond.

For fifteen years after the war I was an active member of Company A (Lancers), First Battalion, Cavalry, M. V. M.

I am now sixty-nine years old and retired from active service.

Martin Binney, Late Captain Twenty-eighth Mass. Vols. Somerville, Mass., November 1, 1899.

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